Thursday, February 08, 2007

how NOT to teach about tefillin

My son’s class is learning the halachos of tefillin from kitzur shulchan aruch, which is the text of choice for most elementary schools despite its shortcomings (a different discussion completely). The choice of topic was clearly made with the intent to educate the boys, many of whom will become bar mitzvah over the next few months, about tefillin. This is the mitzvah which most symbolizes the separation of the “men from the boys”. I hate to be so constantly critical of my son’s school, but at times I honestly have no idea what they could be thinking. My son just got his tefillin and will soon start wearing them, but had no clue what to do with them – when to say the brachos, how exactly to position them, etc. So I asked him whether or not his Rebbe had brought in a pair of tefillin to show the boys what to do. Answer: No. I hit the floor, ceiling, and a few walls. True, I admit to learning hilchos shechita without ever killing a cow, but odds are I will never have to perform that task, and a cow is a bit more inaccessible than a pair of tefillin that a boy will wear every day! I know some stuff I have written about ed aims for ideals, but this is not about creative teaching or radical classroom ideas – it’s about basics. If a Rebbe sits in front of a classroom and drones for hours about hilchos tefillin and a boy doesn’t know what to do with a pair once he gets them in hand, then the teacher is simply not doing his job – sorry, no softer way to put it. Is it really that hard to figure out that to teach hilchos tefillin it might be a good idea to show the boys a pair of tefillin and demonstrate step by step how to put them on? Or to even go a step further and maybe call in one of the many sofrim who live in the area to do a presentation on tefillin and show the batim, the parshiyos, how tefillin are put together, etc.? Come on people in chinuch, this is no brainer stuff!


  1. Anonymous1:01 PM


    Why isn't this....your responsibility? My father taught me these things. Do you really expect someone else's father to teach your son?

    That said, I do understand that since the yeshivos do attempt to be mechanech and since, unfortunately, there are doubtlessly boys either without fathers or without fathers who are capable of teaching, that it falls on the rabbeim.

  2. So in your view teaching kids about tefillin in a way that does not even convey the rudiments of the hows and whats of the mitzvah is considered "educating" children? Would you consider it proper education if kids came out of a year of math class unable to add, subtract, multiply, or divide because these skills could be picked up at home? If learning how to do mitzvos properly is not part of what a yeshiva education is all about, why send your kids there? What is the responsibility of the Rebbe? I cannot disagree more with this POV.

  3. yehuda R1:30 PM

    Due to the large variety of minhogim concerning various minutue of putting on teffilin only a father is capable of giving over the familes minhogim about putting on teffilin and therefore he should be the one to teach it/them.The general halachos are -as is apropriate-taught by rebbeim in school.

  4. Sorry, I don't buy it - you can still show the basics without getting into details like how exactly to wrap the tefillin aroung the fingers, which depend on minhag. For example, when you read in the text the halacha of where on the head to position the tefillin, the lesson is made infinitely more real by taking tefillin shel rosh and demonstrating. As for differing minhagim, even better - why not make kids aware of some of those differences? This way when the sofer asks something like should he make the knot of the shel rosh like a daled or square, the kid will appreciate the different minhagim as well as the one his family follows. I would even go so far as to have a sofer bring in a parsha written in ksav bais yosef and ksav ari"i to show the kids.

  5. Anonymous4:17 PM

    Either take it easy or start your own school. Enough already.

  6. Anonymous, just because you choose a particular school doesn't mean you have to accept that it is 100% perfect and cannot be improved. In non-totalitarian regimee, we have the right to express both our approval and disapproval.

  7. I'm with you on this Chaim it's basic chinuch. I have a pasul set of T'fillin from my grandfather's first cousin (my first pair) that I keep to show my students the parshiot and how it is put together. Interestingly enough the T'fillin were never kosher the original sofer wrote two pey's somewhere (I don't remember in which word exactly) but I was floored when the sofer I had checking it showed me.

  8. Anonymous2:54 AM

    I learnt That way its something that should be taught father to son because of Minhagim and even though everyone wants to throw all of there children's Jewish education on the rebbeim who are overtaxed with work and underpayed it the fathers job so he will teach the halachos and you teach the lemasseh to paraphrase "BSHVIL ZE NIVRASAH"

  9. >>>everyone wants to throw all of there children's Jewish education on the rebbeim

    So pray tell, what exactly is the overburdened, overworked Rebbe (who finishes his job at 2:00) supposed to be doing if the father (who works 9-10 hours a day + a 3 hour commute) is teaching his son everything? If educating children is Not the goal of sending your kids to school I am curious what you think the goal is and how it is supposed to be accomplished?

    Please reread the post as well. The issue is not whether or not the rebbe should teach hilchos tefillin - by your logic it should not be in the curriculum, but (thank G-d) almost every yeshiva and day school includes it. Once you are including it, the burden is on the Rebbe to do the job right. The question whether it better education to teach hilchos tefillin with a hands-on pair of tefillin present, or not?

  10. Anonymous3:28 PM

    So pray tell, what exactly is the overburdened, overworked Rebbe (who finishes his job at 2:00)THAT IS HIS FIRST JOB(AS A REBBE SALARY IS NOT ENOUGH TO SUPPORT A FAMILY) supposed to be doing if the father (who works 9-10 hours a day + a 3 hour commute)
    AGAIN I HATE TO PREACH BUT I THINK WHAT MAKES US FEEL GOOD OR WHAT WE THINK IS IMPORTANT WE HAVE TIME FOR EXAMPLE (I AM CRINGINING AT THIS MOMENT AS THIS MIGHT COME OFF AS A PERSONAL ATTACK AND IT IS NOT)"BLOGGING"If That is Important to take out time in middle of the night and day and off time do the same for chinuch I am curious what you think the goal is and how it is supposed to be accomplished? The goal is to start your children off in school and have them learn the real lessons at home because in most cases where it is non congruent then mixed messages add up to mixed up children.

  11. chaim-
    good question. but here's the rub: should schools not teach hilchot shabbat because there's no way to include the practical 'shimush' aspects?
    you're exposing a fundamental flaw with the formal, classroom model of education: in general, it does not translate into life. what they observe at home generally does.
    on this particular point i agree with you; it's not hard for the rebbe to just bring in a pair of tefillin. it would be even better if he could show righties and lefties, and the different variations of wrapping in different traditions (unless the class is homogeneous), assuming the rebbe knows about them.
    but, ultimately, there's only so much of life, and therefore so much of halacha, which can be made 'real' in the classroom.

  12. >>>should schools not teach hilchot shabbat because there's no way to include the practical 'shimush' aspects?

    Point granted, but yesh l'chaliek efsher from ee efsher. There are always limits, and its not just hands-on vs. non-hands on - schools have budgets, time constraints, currciular constraints etc. so not every topic can be taught in the ideal way it should be. But in this case the 'hands-on' has no cost and is so accessible that to not take advanatge of it is hard to swallow. Since you gave the example of hilchos shabbos I should mention that I think my BIL once took some high school talmidim on a field trip to teach them hilchos eiruvin with a tour of a 'live' eiruv - I am sure in that case as well the field work made the halacha all the more memorable.

  13. I am really surprised there's a debate about this issue. Why all the polemic about underpaid Rebbes etc. What does it have to do with anything? Is it such a tremendous effort to bring in a pair of tefillin to make things clear. Of course whereever possible the Rebbe should show rather than just teach. Are we not interested in making things as clear as possible. What's the point of teaching hilchos tefillin which needs to be lemaaseh if the boys have no idea how to apply the halachos.

    When I was in Yeshiva, the Rosh Yeshiva once brought in a tefillin shel rosh to make things clearer in a shiur he gave *on Shabbos*.

  14. Litvak4:57 PM

    Derech agav, The Living Torah Museum in Brooklyn ( has some type of tefillin exhibit with mannequins, IIRC.

    A main thrust of that museum is to make Torah come alive to people by making them acquainted with objects discussed in their learning, which is similar to the point made in this blog post.

  15. Anonymous1:03 AM

    So you think Rebbeim work from, say 7:30 to 2pm and then sit and learn in a Beis Medrash for the rest of the day?? Rebbeim nowadays are expected to make all sorts of fancy sheets, projects, and assessments that keep the (overly stimulated) children engaged. There are papers to grade. There are parent and student issues to be dealt with outside of classroom and school hours. Oh! By the way, Rebbeim also have families and they are underpaid. I do believe the Rebbi should use real tefillin as props but do not approach this issue with tunnel vision.